Published: | Canada

The Teachings of Modern Yoga – Deviating From Its Origin

Does modern yoga come with cultural appropriation?

You enter a spacious studio, filled with mats nicely separated from each other and acknowledge the bodies in the room and their spiritual energies. You position yourself on the mat, facing towards a large open window, which exposes the beautiful sight of the city.

You close your eyes - focusing on every breath you take, the simplicity of your heartbeat, the silence of the room and the movement of your chest as you excel and inhale. The instructor walks in ever so gently and the yoga experience at this particular studio begins.

60 minutes swiftly passes by and I continue to lay on the mat as the class discontinues but my mind continues to chatter with thoughts and questions. "Did the instructor just admit he was unaware of the terms of he was teaching?" He literally just slapped some exercise routine and called it Hatha Yoga. "How is he an expert in Yoga?"

I lifted myself up, rolled my mat and glanced at the instructor in confusion; and made my way into the change room. I walked towards the mirror and slowly stroked my hair away from my face. Looking at my reflection, I pondered on why this incident bothered me so much.

Yoga continues to be a fundamental part of the Tamil and South Asian culture and currently there are a lot of us who are contributing in rediscovering and sharing this practice. The issue that arises today is those that seek to learn and engage in Yoga may expose themselves to a form which is taught and interpreted differently from its origin. Is this cultural appropriation?

Practicing yoga is not cultural appropriation, but taking the historical practice and making it into a popular exercise routine and implementing a quick religious prayer at the end is. The purpose of my post is not to discourage nor stop others from practicing and sharing their experiences, but rather, it's to encourage them to also understand the importance of acknowledging its origin. If someone from a dominant culture (specifically white dominant) teaches training and prefers not to focus on or is unaware of yoga's true objective, than this is considered cultural appropriation. People need to recognize and share the roots of this practice and understand that it comes from beautiful scriptures such as the Bhagavada Gita, Yoga Sutras, Mahabaratham etc. In other words, the instructors or practitioners who consider themselves to be experts in yoga should be attentive towards the social environment and historical context of what it means.

Although modern yoga implements various fitness related movements and exercises, when an "expert" speaks of Sanskrit terminologies or engages in a form of yoga, they should be aware of the pre-historical aspects and meaning behind those terms. In doing so, you are sharing the actual meaning of the various forms of yoga and giving context to them within the life and culture of those who shaped them. 

How does one practice without culturally appropriating? Practice by accepting, understanding and honouring its root. Yoga should be approached with humility and one should be eager to attain an in-depth experience towards this beautiful path by grasping an understanding of its antiquity.  

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